IN THE transportation world, roads get most of us where we’re going.
But even for those who don’t use other transport options such as trains and buses, those alternates modes of getting around often impact your road trip.
Trains, for instance, play a key role in the Fredericksburg-area corridor by carrying commuters who might otherwise be driving on Interstate 95.
Like the roads, there also is congestion on the corridor’s rails. And, as with roads, there are rail plans.
One such plan is the proposed 123-mile Richmond-to-Washington segment of the Southeast High Speed Rail line, which is not aimed so much at faster trains as it is at adding capacity on the current two-track line, considered by some to be the most congested stretch along the East Coast.
The new track would run from Chesterfield County to just south of the Long Bridge in Arlington County.
Aside from the high-profile angst in 2016 caused by a bypass alternative that would have run through Fredericksburg-area homeowners’ properties, the project has chugged along at low speed through the governmental process.
The Federal Railroad Administration might release its decision on the preferred alternative for the project this month, Jennifer Mitchell, the head of the Virginia Department of Rail Public Transportation, said last week.
The preferred alternative for the roughly $5 billion project is broken into six sections and would add a third track through the corridor, opening up space for 18 more trains a day.
The region’s section of the plans covers 14 miles in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. The plan calls for an elevated track at the city’s downtown station, which also would be upgraded, and a new bridge to replace the current span across the Rappahannock River to accommodate the three tracks.
The project received a funding injection as part of the Atlantic Gateway program, aimed at projects along the I–95 corridor. That money is targeted for expansion work on the northern end of the project, and could start in 2022.
The DRPT’s Mitchell said work on the project likely would trickle down from the north.
But the rest of the project needs money to get done. And that is anything but assured. Money is always a factor, and often a monkey wrench, for projects of this size and cost.
In some states, rail expansion has hit a dead end, such as earlier this year in California, where the the U.S. Department of Transportation cancelled nearly $1 billion in grants after the governor scaled back plans for a high-speed rail project.
The new Richmond-to-Washington rail line isn’t the only cog in the plans to open up train traffic in the corridor.
The DRPT’s Mitchell highlighted the importance of the Long Bridge expansion, where a choke point clogs rail traffic at the only area Potomac River crossing between Virginia and Washington, D.C.
That project also needs money.
Mitchell considers the Long Bridge a critical piece of rail expansion.
“Everything goes across that bridge,” said Mitchell, who considers the bridge and the corridor as a “connector for the Southeast–Northeast corridor,” making it important for passenger and freight trains across the state and nation.
Adding more trains to the rails is seen as one way to clear up traffic on the roads.
“It’s an important component of unlocking 95,” Mitchell said.